As the subway system has rebounded from the dark days of the Bernhard Goetz era, the MTA has sometimes struggled to fill its empty retail spots. Newsstands with their arrays of candy bars fill some spaces while discount clothing stores line some corridors. The Record Mart remains the best place to build up your back catalog of Fania releases. But otherwise, retail has yet to embrace the subway.
Lately, though, as part of an aggressive push to maximize empty space and draw in more dollars, the agency has pushed for new commercials opportunities, and this week, they announced a pop-up shop initiative that will bring retailers underground. These stores will receive month-to-month leases to operate in what the MTA is calling temporarily vacant spaces as the agency works to find takers for long-term leases. The Newsstand at Lorimer/Metropolitan in Williamsburg piloted the concept, and now Uniqlo has opened a store within fare control at the Union Square station.
In a press release, MTA officials spoke about orienting these spaces toward the ever-popular Millennials. “The younger generations are gravitating to the subway system as never before,” MTA Real Estate Director Jeffrey Rosen said. “They are savvy about shopping online. Retailers want to reach them where they are, which is our subway system. We are glad to be able to offer space in our stations to facilitate this new business niche.”
As to the mechanics of the deal, anyone who rents out the space — from small entrepreneurs to established corporations — are taking a lease “as-is,” and stores may appear more temporary than normal. The MTA notes that high-traffic areas can serve to increase exposure “where the emphasis is on displaying merchandise as much as actually conducting on-site transactions.” In other words, it’s another advertisement in a system working to maximize incoming revenue from ancillary avenues. (I have an inquiry into the MTA concerning Uniqlo’s rent but have not yet received a figure.)
“Pop-up stores will provide a fresh and beneficial element to our stations while also improving the image and desirability of retail space in the subway,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said. “This is another example of the MTA working to make better use of its real estate portfolio and improving the subway environment for customers at the same time.”